The Alachua Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution Tuesday, February 10, in support of a statewide ban on fracking.
The commissioners voted unanimously on the resolution, which supports two bills currently in the Florida legislature that would ban hydraulic fracturing (Senate bill 166), also known as fracking, and well stimulation treatments (House bill 169).
Fracking is defined in Senate bill 166 as the process of sending fluid into the ground “in order to create fractures in rock for the purpose of producing or recovering oil or gas.”
Well stimulation treatment is defined in House bill 169 as treatment of an oil or gas well to increase the flow of gas or oil by making the underground rock formation more sponge-like, possibly through the use of chemicals, fracking or both.
“We can theorize that if fracking occurred in our county and it polluted the aquifer then our drinking supply, our water supply, would be impacted,” Ken Cornell, commissioner from district four, said.
Cornell said he brought the resolution to the commission after talking to people in his district who were concerned about fracking in Florida and protecting water sources from pollution, particularly.
“I thought it would be a good idea for us to pass a resolution supporting those two bills,” Cornell said, “and look at what else we could do to potentially protect our aquifer and our springs.”
Multiple gas and oil companies currently have permits to explore potential wells in Northwest and Southwest Florida. While there are no current permits to drill in Alachua County, Cornell and others are concerned about underground water pollution in the aquifer, which flows underneath the permitted areas.
“There’s a growing body of evidence around our country about hydraulic fracturing and what some of those impacts are to local people close to where the fracking is occurring,” Cornell said. “People are getting sick. Water is getting polluted, not just below the surface but above the surface.”
Cornell said fracking is an issue for the whole country, but especially for Florida with its unique and delicate geography.
Jennifer Rubiello, a field associate for Environment Florida, an environmental advocacy organization, agrees.
“If we inject hundreds of chemicals down into the ground, we’re facing the risk of those chemicals seeping into different layers of our aquifer,” she said.
Rubiello said this raises concerns over what this could mean for drinking water in the state. She also said the amount of infrastructure required to build a drilling site would disrupt and pollute the surface area. This is a concern in areas like Southwest Florida, where drilling would be close to wildlife sanctuaries for the Florida panther.
“Quite frankly, it has no place in Florida,” she said.
Environmental Florida released a study on the effects of fracking in 2013.
David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said he doesn’t think the commission studied the issue of fracking from a science-based perspective before approving the resolution. He said people who support the ban should research reliable sources, rather than information that has been “demonized” by people he called “extremists.”
Mica said job creation, revenue for the state and energy independence are all benefits of fracking.
“Hydraulic fracturing is a technology that’s been used in over a million wells in the United States,” Mica said. “And combining that with horizontal drilling engineering has allowed an energy renaissance to take place in the United States.”
Mica said fracking has a potential to benefit everyone in the state, but the potential is relatively unknown due to outdated seismic data. He said new technology, including 3D and 4D imaging, needs to be used to discover new well sites.
“In those areas where we know it exists,” he said, “new engineering technologies need to be brought to there and used appropriately.”
Mica said he thinks most people don’t understand the engineering technology or processes involved with fracking and are more driven by social agendas.
“I think it makes significantly more sense to prevent an environmental disaster than to try to clean up one,” Cornell said. “For those that say that we should wait for the science to prove that fracking is not safe, I say that the burden of proof should be on the oil and gas companies to prove that fracking is safe, not on Floridians to prove that it’s not safe.”